Bradley Wiggins was barely troubled by his rivals as he held on to the overall lead in the Criterium du Dauphin race after France’s Christophe Kern won the fifth stage on Friday.
The Briton, who claimed the yellow jersey following Wednesday’s time trial, finished in sixth place on Friday. He sustained the pace in the final 10km climb to Les Gets with Belgium’s Juergen van den Broeck the only rival trying to unsettle the Team Sky leader.
“[Edvald] Boasson Hagen and [Geraint] Thomas did a fantastic job marshaling the pack and I used them as much as possible [in the final climb],” Wiggins told reporters. “Many riders have attacked to win the stage, not for the GC [general classification]. It was not steep enough to build big gaps.”
Wiggins, who like most of the top guns, is using the Dauphine as a warm-up race before next month’s Tour de France, leads Australia’s Cadel Evans by 1 minute, 11 seconds and defending champion Janez Brajkovic of Slovenia by 1 minute, 21 seconds.
Wiggins expects to face sterner tests in the sixth stage, which features the demanding climbs to the Col du Grand Cucheron and the Collet d’Allevard.
“We’ve always known it would be tough this weekend,” he said. “I’ve trained very well in the last couple of months so I knew I had a good chance to win this race. I believe in my condition, where I’m at at the moment. I proved it today.”
However, the day’s laurels went to Europcar rider Kern, who took charge of the race about 3km from the finish and fought off Dane Chris Anker Sorensen’s challenge.
Saxo Bank-Sungard rider Sorensen finished seven seconds behind.
Thomas Voeckler, Kern’s teammate and the French champion, led a group of favorites to take third place nine seconds off the pace.
“I had been waiting for this victory for a long time,” said Kern, who had not raised his arms in celebration since 2004. “I must thank my team because they supported me when I had both knees injured earlier in the season, they did not rush me to come back.”
Belgium’s Andy Cappelle pulled out of the race after crashing 21km from the finish in an incident that also involved Irishman Nicolas Roche.
Roche got back to his bike badly bruised, but Cappelle could not continue after suffering a possible collarbone fracture. He has been taken to a neighboring hospital with a head trauma, organizers said.
AG2R-La Mondiale manager Vincent Lavenu said Roche did not suffer any fracture despite the massive collision that happened on a large road with the peloton riding close to 70kph.